Take first steps in treating dementia
By Paul Graves
June 26, 2007
"I can't remember what I forgot.
"To brush my teeth or change my socks.
"I know there's something I should have done,
"Send a card or call someone
"Seems like I do this a lot … I can't remember, I forgot."
This is the refrain from a gentle and evocative song in a CD called "Kid Pan Alley." The song tells the story of a grandfather with dementia who is grateful for people like his "grandson Willy" and others who remember him even when he forgets.
Kid Pan Alley, the organization, is a unique curriculum-based musical enrichment program in Nashville, Tenn. The CD was created when 15 grade-school and middle-school classes in the Nashville area were invited to create songs of their choosing in cooperation with dozens of professional musicians, including the Nashville Chamber Orchestra.
Perhaps "Willy" was in the second-grade class that wrote "Can't remember what I forgot." Perhaps his Grampa does have dementia. However, the topic of dementia was chosen by the children, and they created a wonderful gift of song and compassion.
It could become an anthem to an increasing number of Americans who have dementia of one kind or another. There are actually 70 to 80 different kinds of dementia, but we are most familiar with Alzheimer's. About 40 percent of persons with dementia have Alzheimer's. By 2050, that number may be 16 million.
An informative booklet by the Alzheimer's Association, "Basics of Alzheimer's Disease," offers an alarming projection: "Because 70 percent of those with Alzheimer's live at home, the impact of the illness extends to millions of family members, friends and caregivers."
And this impact is related only to those with Alzheimer's. It doesn't take into account countless others who live with one of the many other forms of dementia. Added together, this population has an amazingly heavy impact on our nation's health-care industry and on the families impacted by dementia.
So how can we be responsive to persons with dementia and their families? One very important response is to encourage persons who show "warning signs" of dementia to be properly diagnosed by their doctors or specialists in gerontology or neurology.
Joel Loiacono, Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Association Inland Northwest Chapter, estimates that doctors "who know what they're doing can make an 80-90 percent accurate diagnosis of dementia." An accurate diagnosis means the treatment has a better chance of controlling the symptoms.
While there are about 10 recognized symptoms of dementia, the first symptom we usually think about is memory loss. But it can also be a symptom of a number of other physical ailments. Their treatments may not be the same as those required for dementia. So getting a proper diagnosis is always a critical first step.
Additionally, each of us can learn more about dementia and how to more effectively, compassionately relate to persons with dementia. Whether we are friends, family members or caregivers, we are the ones who must adapt to the behavior patterns of someone with dementia.
The Alzheimer's Association is a key agency in our area that provides the kind of education materials and seminars most useful in helping us all learn better ways to relate to dementia victims.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Alzheimer's is an actual disease of the brain. Other dementias may be caused by other diseases and physical conditions.
We are both wise and compassionate when we learn what can be done to care for persons with dementia and to care for those who care for loved ones with dementia.
This is not my last word on dementia. We will explore dementia further in future columns. Please check with the Alzheimer's Association in Spokane (509-473-3390) or Coeur d'Alene (208-666-2996) for ways you can learn much more about dementia.